Friday, July 29, 2005

Bad Weather Is Not Climate Change

Most of the United States suffered severe—indeed, paralyzing—heat this past week, relieved by a cold front that slogged its way across the nation at a snail's pace. Charlotte, known for its sauna-like summer weather, endured consecutive highs of 100° on Tuesday and Wednesday, which, although they were not record highs, were debilitating to just about everyone. The water in the kids' pool in the backyard was as hot as bathwater, and rubber-soled shoes felt as if they were melting after just a few minutes exposure to the asphalt. We think that is bad—temperatures reached as high as 124° in parts of Arizona!

The U.S. is not alone in its weather woes. The United Kingdom's Telegraph newspaper reported:

At least 200 people were feared dead last night after two days of freak monsoon rains flooded India's Maharastra state, leaving up to 100,000 stranded in Bombay, the country's financial capital.

Aerial photos of the city showed thousands of cars left abandoned along dual carriageways which were turned into rivers after 37 inches of rain—the average for the entire month of July—fell on the city in a single day on Tuesday.

. . . the rain [was] forecast to continue for another 48 hours. . . . (Peter Foster, "37 inches of rain in one day," July 28, 2005)

The Telegraph also reported on a rarity in the island nation: "At least 12 people have been injured, three seriously, after a mini-tornado struck part of south Birmingham. The tornado felled large trees, overturned cars and left parts of the Moseley and Kings Heath areas of the city strewn with glass, masonry and furniture" ("At least 12 hurt as tornado hits Birmingham," July 28, 2005). Though tornadoes can occur anywhere the conditions are favorable, one expects to hear about them mowing down parts of rural Oklahoma or Kansas, not the UK's second-largest city.

Other parts of the world are experiencing crazy weather as well. In Europe, this summer's severe weather has killed dozens of people. Heavy flooding has occurred from Germany to Romania, yet wildfires are being ignited by hot, dry weather from Sweden to Portugal. In addition, this year's hurricane season is off to a record start in that there have already been seven named storms (Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Dennis, Emily, Franklin, and Gert)—and the peak of the season is still another month away.

Nevertheless, despite these weather extremes, there is no logical reason to believe that the world is experiencing radical climate change, as some environmental activists and politicians would like us to suppose. Such an assumption ignores the basic difference between weather and climate. Any reputable dictionary will explain that weather is "the state of the atmosphere at a given time," while climate is "the average course or condition of the weather at a place usually over a period of years." In other words, the primary difference between weather and climate is duration: Weather is short-term and climate is long-term. Thus, no spate of particularly bad weather is conclusive evidence of climate change.

Perhaps seeing this in analogy will help us to understand. Let us imagine that qualified doctors at several prestigious hospitals in various places around the globe report that they had delivered babies with twelve fingers. If we were like the radical environmentalists, we would immediately call a press conference to inform the world that the human species is on the brink of worldwide, detrimental, evolutionary change, and that if all the nations of the world did not band together now and voluntarily engage in expensive programs to forestall these terrible mutations, future generations will suffer. In addition, individual citizens should "think globally and act locally," and report all sightings of twelve-fingered people to authorities for prosecution under the new anti-mutation legislation being proposed by sympathetic lawmakers.

Ridiculous, right? Yes, but very much in tune with how radical environmentalists have acted over the past few decades concerning climate change. Indeed, extra-fingered babies are born all over the world, though it is not common. This condition is called polydactylism, and it occurs once in about every 500 births. However, though it occurs, it is not logical to assume that it presages radical, imminent, evolutionary development—good or bad—for the human race. It is merely a birth defect.

This is where the environmentalists and the scientists who support them have gone astray. They have made an illogical assumption from climate models that rare extremes of weather indicate future, catastrophic climate change. It is a non-sequitur (Latin for "it does not follow"). Terrible heat waves in summer do not mean global warming, nor do bitterly cold winters portend the next ice age.

Climate is far too complex for such simplistic reasoning. Trends over decades or centuries are far more reliable, and honest scientists will admit that the current warming trend is gradual (rising only tenths of a degree) and expected (we are coming off the Little Ice Age that lasted from approximately 1350 to 1850). They will also acknowledge, perhaps more grudgingly, that human activity through the use of fossil fuels cannot make a significant impact on climate, and that solar and volcanic activities are far more likely to be the causes of large swings in temperature and precipitation.

Remember, God may have called us as weak and foolish, but He does not want us to remain so. He warns us to "test all things" (I Thessalonians 5:21), not just to accept them as given. Further, he exhorts us to "shun . . . vain babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness" (II Timothy 2:16) and to "avoid foolish disputes, . . . for they are unprofitable and useless" (Titus 3:9). In other words, we should not become caught up in the world's futile, godless debates because they will only lead us from the truth.

Besides, the Bible itself tells us that the hand of God, not some climatic disaster, will bring this present, evil world to a crashing halt.

Friday, July 15, 2005

So There Has Been Another Terror Strike

A week and a day have hustled down the track since the 7/7 bombings in London. While the four bombs did not destroy nearly what the 9/11 airplanes did nor kill nearly as many people, they still did significant damage to bodies, bricks, and psyches in Great Britain. With more than 50 dead and several hundred wounded, they aroused the attention of Londoners fixated on the Live 8 concerts, the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, and London's recent victory over Paris in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games decision.

I happened to be in France on a church visit when the bombings occurred, giving me the opportunity to "take the temperature" of the average European on the street. Though the common reaction was not, "Oh, yeah? Another terrorist bombing? I'll have a cappuccino and a croissant, thanks," it was nonetheless unremarkable. I got the distinct impression—not from our members but from those with whom I interacted in airports and train stations in France and The Netherlands—that this was just another bombing.

I had to pass through a major Paris Metro station, Gare du Nord, Charles de Gaulle airport, and Amsterdam's Schipol airport the day after the bombings, and though the security was a little tighter than normal—instead of seeing a couple of machine-gun-toting soldiers patrolling the corridors, I saw several—passengers were calmly making their connections. I had the chance to speak with a couple of Britons on a train, and they were essentially unfazed by the attacks. Essentially, their reaction was, "This is the world we live in."

The news reports that I saw—on BBC World, primarily—seemed to support their calm acceptance of terrorism as the status quo. From Tony Blair to the common London commuter, the British stiff upper lip was the typical comment, spoken in a well-modulated, calm voice: "We will not let this bother us. We will persevere. We will not give the terrorists the victory. Life goes on." There may be little or nothing wrong with a reaction like this, but it is curious in its near-apathy. Perhaps it comes across as strange and weak to us in comparison to the average American's reaction after 9/11, which contained a great deal more outrage: "Let's roll! These people are going to pay for what they've done!"

Our understanding of their nearly non-reaction has to factor in Europe's long history of terrorism. The United States has had a long-distance relationship with terror; though the federal government, particularly the military, has dealt with terrorists for decades, only in 1993 in the first World Trade Center bombing did the militant, fundamentalist Muslims begin to strike on American soil. Europe, however, has been dealing with terrorism—and not just Islamic but homegrown terrorism—for decades. Britain's long struggle with the Irish Republican Army goes back several generations, while other European nations have contended with their own revolutionary factions at least since the beginning of the Cold War. Violent riots, shootings, car bombs, mail bombs, kidnappings, and other forms of terrorism occur with such regularity that the general populace has become somewhat inured to them, even those on the scale of last Thursday's atrocities.

This may help to explain why so many Europeans criticize America's War on Terror as an overreaction: They are far past the "fight or flight" reaction and deep into acceptance of the situation as "normal" or at least "commonplace." Since none of the measures taken over the past decades has stemmed the terror tide, they feel that the reasonable, mature response is to shrug and move on. Do not give the terrorists cause to gloat. America's volatile reaction, then, is thought to be childish and counterproductive. It will only incite more terrorism, they say.

We need to take this contrast into consideration from a Christian standpoint. How do we react to the spiritual equivalents of acts of terrorism—trials, temptations, persecutions, etc.? Do we, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, get up, brush ourselves off, and go about our business as if nothing happened? Or are we so offended and outraged that we stand up with our fists balled and a resolute gleam in our eyes? Do we mumble, "Not again," or do we shout, "That's it! I've had enough!"?

Truly, "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal" (II Corinthians 10:4), so our fight is not the kind the American government wages against Islamic terrorists. But the martial spirit is no less necessary in our fight against sin and the allurements of Satan and his world. The Bible is full of military allusions: from putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:13) to "endur[ing] hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (II Timothy 2:3). The Christian cannot be passive or indifferent to the very real struggle "against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).

Peter calls for steadfast resistance (I Peter 5:8-9), and Paul commands us pull down strongholds and cast down everything "that exalts itself against the knowledge of God," capturing and punishing any sort of disobedience left in us (II Corinthians 10:4-6). Jesus Christ Himself is portrayed as a great Captain of spiritual armies, out of whose mouth goes a sword used to strike and rule (Revelation 19:15; see Hebrews 4:12).

Christianity is a religion of action, not passivity. God's children need to be alert and prepared to react decisively to the enemy's attacks, wherever and whenever they may occur. "Be sober, be vigilant," says Peter in I Peter 5:8, and Paul writes, "The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light" (Romans 13:12).

Sounds like "fighting words" to me.